Publication Date

April 2012


John Finn


College of Social Studies


English (United States)


This paper traces a number of transformations in how property concerns have been treated by the Supreme Court. I argue that these transformations are marked, at one end, by a hard distinction between public and private property and at the other by a system in which such a dichotomy has become meaningless. To trace this breakdown, I turn to the work of Arendt (Chapter 1), whose categories I use to distinguish one mode of encountering property from another. The next three chapters display this transformation of property at various stages: at the height of the public/private distinction under the Marshall Court (Chapter 2), at the redefinition of these denominations during the Industrial Revolution (Chapter 3), and at the breakdown of categories and the rise of eminent domain (Chapter 4). Throughout, I take the work of Arendt as a common referent to show how seemingly subtle differences in focus serve to redefine what property is and what is important about it.



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